Wednesday, July 29, 2015

An Education on Herbs and #18 Schoolhouse

On Saturday there was another workshop at the school gardens by The Fauquier County Master Gardeners, this time on herbs. And another opportunity to visit those beautifully colorful gardens again. The school was also opening it's doors to visitors so I set off with my camera and enthusiasm charged.
I didn't think it could be possible but the gardens were even more colorful than my last visit. Plants had got taller and fuller with plentiful blooms busting and bursting everywhere, all eagerly stretching their heads to the bright sun. There were also now a large clump of magnificent sunflowers shining above the other perennials and reaching out their broad green leaves as if they were saying, "We've done it, we've finally got here!"
Janet's herb garden, which would be the subject of today's workshop, was looking healthy and ready for inspection, with clumps of marigolds blooming cheerfully along the edges.
I had a stroll around the beds, enjoying the resplendent display of color, and the buzzing and humming from the nectar collectors of Marshall, which I'm sure were all present in this little garden today.
And then it was time for the workshop, and I gratefully sat on a chair in the cool shade. The Master Gardener team had put together a pretty display on the table of herbs on trays and in glass jars, along with books and leaflets. They had also brought a glass urn, filled with water, ice, and slices of lemons and limes, looking like it had been plucked straight from the pages of a Country Living magazine.
And then Janet talked about herbs, explaining their uses as medicinal, culinary or simply as decoration. The Chinese had used them for thousands of years, believing they would cure any imbalance of Yin and Yang,  while the Romans liked to steep lavender in their public baths to scent the water. The first written lavender recipe was penned in 1615. We even learned that lavender mixed in wax helps to keep woodworm at bay.
We learned how to cultivate our herbs and the best places to buy seeds or seedlings from. DeBaggio's was of course mentioned. I didn't know that herbs dislike over watering or that they should be watered from the base. I've always grown mine in pots but think that next year I may try putting them in the ground now that I know the more fragrant ones, such as lavender, sage or rosemary could be used to border the others since they will deter the deers. I also learned that cilantro doesn't really like bright light, preferring a filtered sunlight, and not to bother growing oregano from seed as it is a slow grower.
A tray of various herbs was passed around so we could feel and sniff, and I fell in love with the pineapple sage; it really did taste of pineapple. A definite one on the list for next year, with such pretty flowers too. I also learned I could pick my herbs and put them directly into a ziplock bag and into the freezer, something I did as soon as I returned home, to save my basil plants, which are now shooting up and sprouting flower heads almost faster than I can clip them off. I shall also make some pesto with the rest of the plants, which I can then freeze. Click here for an awesome pesto recipe, and finally an opportunity to use my pestle and mortar!
I took a lot of notes during the workshop and now have plenty of ideas for next year. I shall  also try to overwinter my woody herbs, (lavender, rosemary, sage) this year, not something I thought I could do in the past.
Janet walked us around her plot explaining uses and care of the plants, which we followed with our handouts. It had been a great class and she had even made lavender cookies for us to try. Unfortunately I have no photos of mine because I'd woofed it down before taking a photo even came to mind, but it was delicious.
Peggy, who has the bed with perrenials and the sunflowers very kindly gave me a clump of brown eyed susan and a purple plant, which I've forgotten the name of. They had wilted by the time I got them home but I planted them immediately with lots of watering so have my fingers crossed that they will recuperate.
Once the class had finished I walked across to the old school house. The bell had rung out a few times while we were learning about herbs, and it had been delightful to hear that pealing, while thinking we were listening to the same sound that had called the children to class over a hundred years ago.
Built in 1887 on land donated by the Shackleford family,  it served as a school until 1964, for white children until 1910, when they moved to a newer school, and then for African American children until it closed. It's now the only 19th century one room school in Fauquier county, and one of a small handful left in Virginia.
Most of the interior is original, including the blackboard, floor, walls and ceiling. Even the bell was restored although the cupola was replaced. There was no furniture inside but the old pot belly stove was replaced with a donation, along with old school desks from the era. There are markings on the floor still from the desks' legs and burn marks from the stove's cinders.

The Marshall Regional Historical Society restored the old building to its former glory, collecting materials needed, with some being donated, such as paint from Marshall Hardware. It seemed that few members of the community were willing to give their time though which was a shame. If I had been around in 1989, I would have leaped at the chance. But regardless, the society did a superb job of finishing their arduous task, and the building is now a museum, opening on the third Saturday of each month from 1-3pm.
The article above from August 1989 shows the president of the MRHS and quotes his disappointment in the lack of local help.
The school has some great artifacts inside, showing how the learning system was back then. There are old books, pupil chalkboards, toys and even snacks from the era. There would have been an average of 29 pupils to the 1 teacher, with ages from 6-13, the older pupils assisting with the younger ones. As well as their lessons the pupils had chores, such as collecting water and wood, watching for the mailman and cleaning. Pranks such as dipping braids in ink wells or depositing frogs in the water bucket were punished with spanks and behavior reports to parents.
The photo above shows the school in the late 70's. There was an article inside from 1974, explaining the uncertainty of the building's ownership at that time. A James Hitt and his wife were living there rent free in exchange for guarding the dumpsters on the property.
This doll made me start when I looked up. judging by her expression, she's obviously used to that kind of reaction!

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